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Restaurants share keys to social media success at Summer Brand Camp conference

Brands revealed best practices surrounding their use of social media during the recent People Report Summer Brand Camp conference

How restaurants are successfully tapping into and using social media remained one of the main themes during the recent People Report Summer Brand Camp conference in Dallas.

Representatives of restaurant brands as varied as Applebee’s, Boloco, Buffalo Wild Wings, Chili’s Grill & Bar, Firehouse Subs and Taco Bell shared their social media knowledge at the conference, sponsored June 5-8 by the Dallas-based People Report and Black Box Intelligence consultancies.

Sally Smith, chief executive of Buffalo Wild Wings, told the 325 attendees, “Everything we do is about making personal connections, and social media is just one of the tools we use to facilitate this process.”

The Minneapolis-based company, which has more than 830 units in the United States and Canada, has found Facebook to be a good platform for social media efforts, according to Smith. “ Luckily, Facebook happens to be a natural fit for us,” she said, pointing out that many of the younger Buffalo Wild Wings guests have Facebook pages.

Buffalo Wild Wings has more than 7.5 million Facebook Fans, “which is as much a testament to the dedication of our fans as it is to our efforts to attract them,” Smith said. And of those fans, 88,726 are “talking about” the brand.

“Our large fan base has a passionate interest in connecting with others, be it in the restaurant or online,” Smith said.

Simplicity plays a key role in those social media efforts, Smith indicated. The chain’s top post of all-time was two words — “Mmmmmm. Beer.” — and a photograph of a glass of brew. Smith noted that the post was “pretty simple, but it sparked some really great conversation. One guest even wrote: ‘Beer is the best beverage ever invented.’”

“Generally, we view Facebook as a guest page and we really try not to control the conversations,” Smith added. “We find our guests are quick to respond to negative posts, and that helps keep our page authentic.”

In addition, Smith said Buffalo Wild Wings sees Facebook as an extension of restaurant experience, using it more as a social interaction and less as a sales pitch. “But once in a while, we share news about our products," he said. "Last week, we posted a picture of one of our salads, an Asian chicken salad, and we said, ‘Just because you want a salad doesn’t mean you don’t want flavor. Our Asian chicken salad has the best of both worlds.’ Almost 600,000 people had something to say about that.”

The sports-oriented brand also finds game-day postings on Facebook pages can spur intense conversation, she said, and Buffalo Wild Wings remains the top checked-in restaurant on Facebook.

The company also maintains dual presence on Twitter, one for marketing (@BWWings) and one for recruitment (@BWWcareers), Smith said.

“Our guests really do feel a connection to our brand,” she said, which was exhibited earlier this year when fans created and uploaded a six-minute documentary to YouTube that chronicled the opening of a new unit in London, Ontario.

The unsolicited video exemplifies fans' loyalty to the brand, Smith said, as it provides a look at those waiting days in sub-freezing temperatures to be among the first 100 at an opening and to be awarded with free wings every week for a year. And it humorously picked up on current events with the #OccupyBuffaloWildWings hashtag popularized in social media.

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Take a look at some more social media best practices gleaned from other People Report Summer Brand Camp panels:

Be selective with social media channels. “What's important is that you do what makes sense for your brand,” said Avery Block, social engagement and brand champion for Taco Bell Corp. She said brands have to decide which social channels the target market is involved in and work within those platforms.

Integrate social media into other marketing. Matt Olsen, digital marketing manager for 509-unit Firehouse Subs, said, “When we look at digital, what is important to us is integration."

On Labor Day in 2011, for example, Firehouse Subs offered a rare giveaway for a free sub sandwich when a customer ordered a combo. “We promoted this through email, Facebook, Twitter, PR to bloggers and traditional media,” he said. “We had a 17-percent sales lift vs. 2010 and a 20-percent transaction lift. That is the power of integration. Nothing works in a vacuum.”

Build a business case. Krista Gibson, senior vice president of brand strategy for Chili’s Grill & Bar, said measuring return on investment, or ROI, in social media has remained a challenge. “It does have a very low ‘I’,” she said. “Compared to TV, it’s like the deal of the century. We do marketing-mix modeling. We are able to put in variables to see how it’s working for us.”

When the platforms start showing results and success, Gibson added, it creates momentum for increasing the scale. “We do use data to help the organization be with us,” she said.

Use social media to connect with consumers. Jill McFarland, who works in social media for Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar, said the brand tries to bring a connection in the digital space in the heavily franchised chain. “Each of our restaurants has its own Facebook page so the personality can come through, bringing the neighborhood to the digital space,” she said. The brand tracks the effectiveness of Facebook ads with Nielsen ratings, she added.

Respond to consumers. Cassidy Q. Brettler, who works in social media for the 18-unit Boloco burrito brand, said, “Our big thing is every customer, or every guest, deserves a response, whether it’s on Twitter, Facebook or videos.”

Compare results. Restaurants can monitor how they compare with peers through the Restaurant Social Media Index, which was created by DigitalCoCo in partnership with Nation’s Restaurant News. Founder Paul Barron said the index measures influence, engagement and sentiment and looks at food, service and brand experience.

Overcome fears. “There still is a lot of fear out there,” said Jason Seiden, chief executive of Ajax Social Media. “I lost a client because I told a social marketing director/digital strategist, ‘You’ve got your voice; imagine what you could do with 10 percent of your workforce amplifying your message, 600 of your 6,000 people taking your message out there.’ And she fired us on the spot because she was petrified she would lose her job. She couldn’t picture her future.”

Look for the opportunities. “I still visit with a lot of operators out there who frankly don’t get it and haven’t embraced a lot of opportunities that social media and technology can bring to their brand,” said Nate DaPore, president and chief executive of PeopleMatter.

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected].
Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless

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